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Full text of "Compensation"

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COMPENSATION 



EMERSON 



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MAR 1 8 1994 



COMPENSATION 




Compensation 




RALPH WALDO EMERSON 



GROSSET & DUNLAP 

l^ew York 




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ERINDALE 

COLLEGE 

LIBRARY 



Printed in the United States of America 



COMPENSATION. 

Ever since I was a boy I have wished to write a 
discourse on Compensation ; for it seemed to me 
when very young that on this subject Life was ahead 
of theology and the people knew more than the 
preachers taught. The documents too from which the 
doctrine is to be drawn, charmed my fancy by their 
endless variety, and lay always before me, even in 
sleep; for they are the tools in our hands, the bread 
in our basket, the transactions of the street, the farm 
and the dwelling-house ; the greetings, the relations, 
the debts and credits, the inHuence of character, the 
nature and endowment of all men. It seemed to me 
also that in it might be shown men a ray of divinity, 
the present action of the Soul of this world, clean 
from all vestige of tradition ; and so the heart of man 
might be bathed by an inundation of eternal love, 
conversing with that which he knows was always and 
always must be, because it really is now. It appeared, 
moreover, that if this doctrine could be stated in 
terms with any resemblance to those bright intuitions 
in which this truth is sometimes revealed to us, it 
would be a star in many dark hours and crooked 
passages in our journey, that would not suffer us to 
lose our way. 

I was lately confirmed in these desires by hearing 
3 



COMPENSATION. 



a sermon at church. The preacher, a man esteemed 
for his orthodoxy, unfolded in the ordinary manner 
the doctrine of the Last Judgment. He assumed that 
judgment is not executed in this world; that the 
wicked are successful; that the good are mii arable; 
and then urged from reason and from Scripture a 
compensation to be made to both parties in the next 
life. i\o. ofifence appeared to be taken by the congre- 
gation at this doctrine. As far as I could observe 
when the meeting broke up they separated without 
remark on the sermon. 

Yet what was the import of this teaching? What 
did the preacher mean by saying that the good are 
miserable in the present life? Was it that houses 
and lands, ofifices, wine, horses, dress, luxury, are had 
by unprincipled men, whilst the saints are poor and 
despised ; and that a compensation is to be made to 
these last hereafter, by giving them the like gratifica- 
tions another day, — bank-stock and doubloons, veni- 
son and champagne? This must be the compensation 
intended; for what else? Is it that they are to have 
leave to pray and praise? to love and serve men? 
Why, that they can do now. The legitimate inference 
the disciple would draw was, 'We are to have such a 
good time as the sinners have now'; — or, to push it to 
its extreme import, — 'You sin now, we shall sin by- 
and-by; we would sin now, if we could; not being 
successful we expect our revenge to-morrow.' 

The fallacy lay in the immense concession that the 
bad are successful; that justice is not done now. 
The blindness of the preacher consisted in deferring 
to the base estimate of the market of what constitutes 



COMPENSATION. 



a manly success, instead of confronting and convict- 
ing the world from the truth ; announcing the Pres- 
ence of the Soul ; the omnipotence of the Will ; and 
so establishing the standard of good and ill, of suc- 
cess and falseliood, and summoning the dead to its 
present tribunal. 

I find a similar base tone in the popular religious 
works of the day and the same doctrines assumed by 
the literary men when occasionally they treat the 
related topics. I think that our popular theology has 
gained in decorum, and not in principle, over the 
superstitions it has displaced. But men are better 
than this theology. Their daily life gives it the lie. 
Every ingenuous and aspiring soul leaves the doc- 
trine behind him in his own experience, and all men 
feel sometimes the falsehood which they cannot 
demonstrate. For men are wiser than they know. 
That which they hear in schools and pulpits without 
afterthought, if said in conversation would probably 
be questioned in silence. If a man dogmatize in a 
mixed company on Providence and the divine laws, 
he is answered by a silence which conveys well 
enough to an observer the dissatisfaction of the 
hearer, but his incapacity to make his own statement. 

1 shall attempt in this and the following chapter to 
record some facts that indicate the path of the law of 
Compensation ; happy beyond my expectation if I 
shall truly draw the smallest arc of this circle. 

Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every 
part of nature ; in darkness and light, in heat and 
cold ; in the ebb and flow of waters ; in male and 
female ; in the inspiration and expiration of plants 



COMPENSATION. 



and animals ; in the systole and diastole of the heart ; 
in the undulations of fluids and of sound; in the 
centrifugal and centripetal gravity ; in electricity, 
galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce mag- 
netism at one end of a needle, the opposite magnetism 
takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the 
north repels. To empty here, you must condense 
there. An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that 
each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to 
make it whole ; as, spirit, matter ; man, woman ; 
subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, 
rest ; yea, nay. 

Whilst the world is thus dual, so is every one of 
its parts. The entire system of things gets repre- 
sented in every particle. There is somewhat that 
resembles the ebb and flow of the sea, day and night, 
man and woman, in a single needle of the pine, in a 
kernel of corn, in each individual of every animal 
tribe. The reaction, so grand in the elements, is 
repeated within these small boundaries. For example, 
in the animal kingdom the physiologist has observed 
that no creatures are favorites, but a certain compen- 
sation balances every gift and every defect. A sur- 
plusage given to one part is paid out of a reduction 
from another part of the same creature. If the head 
and neck are enlarged, the trunk and extremities are 
cut short. 

The theory of the mechanic forces is another ex- 
ample. What we gain in power is lost in time, and 
the converse. The periodic or compensating errors 
of the planets is another instance. The influences of 
climate and soil in political history are another. The 



COMPENSATION. 



cold climate invigorates. The barren soil does not 
breed fevers, crocodiles, tigers, or scorpions. 

The same dualism underlies the nature and con- 
dition of man. Every excess causes a defect; every 
defect an excess. Every sweet hath its sour ; every 
evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of 
pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. It 
is to answer for its moderation with its life. For 
every grain of wit there is a grain of folly. For 
every thing you have missed, you have gained some- 
thing else ; and for every thing you gain, you lose 
something. If riches increase, they are increased 
that use them. If the gatherer gathers too much, 
nature takes out of the man what she puts into his 
chest; swells the estate, but kills the owner. Nature 
hates monopolies and exceptions. The waves of the 
sea do not more speedily seek a level from their 
loftiest tossing than the varieties of condition tend 
to equalize themselves. There is always some level- 
ling circumstance that puts down the overbearing, 
the strong, the rich, the fortunate, substantially on the 
same ground with all others. Is a man too strong 
and fierce for society and by temper and position a 
bad citizen, — ^a morose ruffian, with a dash of the 
pirate in him? — nature sends him a troop of pretty 
sons and daughters who are getting along in the 
dame's classes at the village school, and love and 
fear for them smooths his grim scowl to courtesy. 
Thus she contrives to intenerate the granite and 
felspar, takes the boar out and puts the lamb in and 
keeps her balance true. 

The farmer imagines power and place are fine 



8 COMPENSATION. 

things. But the President has paid dear for his 
White House. It has commonly cost him all his 
peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To 
preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appear- 
ance before the world, he is content to eat dust before 
the real masters who stand erect behind the throne. 
Or do men desire the more substantial and permanent 
grandeur of genius? Neither has this an immunity. 
He who by force of will or of thought is great and 
overlooks thousands, has the responsibility of over- 
looking. With every influx of light comes new dan- 
ger. Has he light? he must bear witness to the light, 
and always outrun that sympathy which gives him 
such keen satisfaction, by his fidelity to new revela- 
tions of the incessant soul. He must hate father and 
mother, wife and child. Has he all that the world 
loves and admires and covets? — he must cast behind 
him their admiration and afflict them by faithfulness 
to his truth and become a byword and a hissing. 

This Law writes the laws of the cities and nations. 
It will not be baulked of its end in the smallest iota. 
It is in vain to build or plot or combine against it. 
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Res nolunt 
diu male administrari. Though no checks to a new 
evil appear, the checks exist, and will appear. If 
the government is cruel, the governor's life is not 
safe. If you tax too high, the revenue will yield 
nothing. If you make the criminal code sanguinary, 
juries will not convict. Nothing arbitrary, nothing 
artificial can endure. The true life and satisfactions 
of man seem to elude the utmost rigors or felicities 
of condition and to establish themselves with great 



COMPENSATION. 



indiffercncy under all varieties of circumstance. 
Under all governments the influence of character re- 
mains the same, — in Turkey and New England about 
alike. Under the primeval despots of Egypt, history 
honestly confesses that man must have been as free 
as culture could make him. 

These appearances indicate the fact that the uni- 
verse is represented in every one of its particles. 
Every thing in nature contains all the powers of 
nature. Every thing is made of one hidden stuff; 
as the naturalist sees one type under every meta- 
morphosis, and regards a horse as a running man, 
a fish as a swimming man, a bird as a flying man, 
a tree as a rooted man. Each new form repeats not 
only the main character of the type, but part for 
part all the details, all the aims, furtherances, hin- 
drances, energies and whole system of every other. 
Every occupation, trade, art, transaction, is a com- 
pend of the world and a correlative of every other. 
Each one is an entire emblem of human life ; of its 
good and ill, its trials, its enemies, its course and 
its end. And each one must somehow accommodate 
the whole man and recite all his destiny. 

The world globes itself in a drop of dew. The 
microscope cannot find the animalcule which is less 
perfect for being little. Eyes, ears, taste, smell, 
motion, resistance, appetite, and organs of reproduc- 
tion that take hold on eternity, — all find room to 
consist in the small creature. So do we put our life 
into every act. The true doctrine of omnipresence is 
that God reappears with all his parts in every moss 
and cobweb. The value of the universe contrives to 



lo COMPENSATION. 

throw itself into every point. If the good is there, 
so is the evil ; if the affinity, so the repulsion ; if the 
force, so the limitation. 

Thus is the universe alive. All things are moral. 
That soul which within us is a sentiment, outside of 
us is a law. We feel its inspirations ; out there in 
history we can see its fatal strength. It is almighty. 
All nature feels its grasp. "It is in the world, and 
the world was made by it." It is eternal but it 
enacts itself in time and space. Justice is not post- 
poned. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all 
parts of life. Oi Kvfioi Aib<i asi evniitvovat. The 
dice of God are always loaded. The world looks 
like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equa- 
tion, which, turn it how you will, balances itself. 
Take what figure you will, its exact value, nor more 
nor less, still returns to you. Every secret is told, 
every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every 
wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. What 
we call retribution is the universal necessity by 
which the whole appears wherever a part appears. If 
you see smoke, there must be fire. If you see a hand 
or a limb, you know that the trunk to which it 
belongs is there behind. 

Every act rewards itself, or in other words in- 
tegrates itself, in a twofold manner: first in the 
thing, or in real nature ; and secondly in the circum- 
stance, or in apparent nature. Men call the circum- 
stance the retribution. The casual retribution is in 
the thing and is seen by the soul. The retribution in 
the circumstance is seen by the understanding ; it is 
inseparable from the thing, but is often spread over 



COMPENSATION. ii 

a long time and so does not become distinct until 
after many years. The specific stripes may follow 
late after the offence, but they follow because they 
accompany it. Crime and punishment grow out of 
one stem. Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected 
ripens within the flower of the pleasure which con- 
cealed it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed 
and fruit, cannot be severed ; for the effect already 
blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, 
the fruit in the seed. 

Whilst thus the world will be whole and refuses 
to be disparted, we seek to act partially, to sunder, 
to appropriate ; for example, — to gratify the senses 
we sever the pleasure of the senses from the needs 
of the character. The ingenuity of man has been 
dedicated to the solution of one problem, — how to 
detach the sensual sweet, the sensual strong, the 
sensual bright, etc., from the moral sweet, the moral 
deep, the moral fair ; that is, again, to contrive to cut 
clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it 
bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end. 
The soul says, Eat ; the body would feast. The soul 
says. The man and woman shall be one flesh and 
one soul ; the body would join the flesh only. The 
soul says, Have dominion over all things to the ends 
of virtue ; the body would have the power over things 
to its own ends. 

The soul strives amain to live and work through 
all things. It would be the only fact. All things 
shall be added unto it, — power, pleasure, knowledge, 
beauty. The particular man aims to be somebody ; to 
cet up for himself; to truck and higgle for a private 



12 COMPENSATION. 

good; and, in particulars, to ride that he may ride; 
to dress that he may be dressed ; to eat that he may 
eat ; and to govern, that he may be seen. Men seek 
to be great ; they would have offices, wealth, power, 
and fame. They think that to be great is to get only 
one side of nature, — the sweet, without the other 
side. — the bitter. 

Steadily is this dividing and detaching counter- 
acted. Up to this day it must be owned no projector 
has had the smallest succesb. The parted water re- 
unites behind our hand. Pleasure is taken out of 
pleasant things, profit out of profitable things, power 
out of strong things, the moment we seek to separate 
them from the whole. We can no more halve things 
and get the sensual good, by itself, than we can get 
an inside that shall have no outside, or a light with- 
out a shadow. "Drive out nature with a fork, she 
comes running back." 

Life invests itself with inevitable conditions, which 
the unwise seek to dodge, which one and another 
brags that he does not know, brags that they do not 
touch him ; — but the brag is on his lips, the condi- 
tions are in his soul. If he escapes them in one part 
they attack him in another more vital part. If he 
has escaped them in form and in the appearance, it 
is because he has resisted his life and fled from him- 
self, and the retribution is so much death. So signal 
is the failure of all attempts to make this separation 
of the good from the tax, that the experiment would 
not be tried, — since to try it is to be mad, — but for 
the circumstance that when the disease began in the 
will, of rebellion and separation, the intellect is at 



COMPENSATION. 13 

once infected, so that the man ceases to see God 
whole in each object, but is able to see the sensual 
allurement of an object and not see the sensual hurt; 
he sees the mermaid's head but not the dragon's tail, 
and thinks he can cut off that which he woulJ have 
from that which he would not have. "How secret 
art thou who dwellest in the highest heavens in 
silence, O thou only great God, sprinkling with an 
unwearied providence certain penal blindnesses upon 
such as have unbridled desires!"* 

The human soul is true to these facts in the paint- 
ing of fable, of history, of law, of proverbs, of con- 
versation. It finds a tongue in literature unawares. 
Thus the Greeks called Jupiter, Supreme Mind ; but 
having traditionally ascribed to him many base 
actions, they involuntarily made amends to Reason 
by tying up the hands of so bad a god. He is made 
as helpless as a king of England. Prometheus knows 
one secret which Jove must bargain for; Minerva, 
another. He cannot get his own thunders; Minerva. 
keeps the key of them : 

Of all the gods, I only know the keys 
That ope the solid doors within whose vaults 
His thunders sleep. 

A plain confession of the in-working of the All an4 
of its moral aim. The Indian mythology ends in 
the same ethics ; and indeed it would seem impos- 
sible for any fable to be invented and get any cur- 
rency which was not moral. Aurora forgot to ask 
vouth for her lover, and though so Tithonus is im- 



*St. Augustine, Confessions, B. I. 



14 COMPENSATION. 

mortal, he is old. Achilles is not quite invulnerable; 
for Thetis held him by the heel when she dipped him 
in the Styx and the sacred waters did not wash that 
part. Siegfried, in the Nibelungen, is not quite im- 
mortal, for a leaf fell on his back whilst he was 
bathing in the Dragon's blood, and that spot which 
it covered is mortal. And so it always is. There is a 
crack in every thing God has made. Always it would 
seem there is this vindictive circumstance stealing in 
at unawares even into the wild poesy in which the 
human fancy attempted to make bold holiday and to 
shake itself free of the old laws, — this back-stroke, 
this kick of the gun, certifying that the law is fatal ; 
that in nature nothing can be given, all things are 
sold. 

This is that ancient doctrine of Nemesis, who 
keeps watch in the Universe and lets no offence go 
unchastised. The Furies they said are attendants 
on Justice, and if the sun in heaven should trans- 
gress his path they would punish him. The poets 
related that stone walls and iron swords and leathern 
thongs had an occult sympathy with the wrongs of 
their owners; that the belt which Ajax gave Hector 
dragged the Trojan hero over the field at the wheels 
of the car of Achilles, and the sword which Hector 
gave Ajax was that on whose point Ajax fell. They 
recorded that when the Thasians erected a statue to 
Theogenes, a victor in the games, one of his rivals 
went to it by night and endeavored to throw it down 
by repeated blows, until at last he moved it from 
its pedestal and was crushed to death beneath its fall. 

This voice of fable has in it somewhat divine. It 



COMPENSATION. 



came from thought above the will of the writer. 
That is the best part of each writer which has noth- 
ing private in it ; that is the best part of each which 
he does not know ; that which flowed out of his con- 
stitution and not from his too active invention ; that 
which in the study of a single artist you might not 
easily find, but in the study of many you would ab- 
stract as the spirit of them all. Phidias it is not, but 
the work of man in that early Hellenic world that I 
would know. The name and circumstance of Phidias, 
however convenient for history, embarrasses when 
we come to the highest criticism. We are to see 
that which man was tending to do in a given period, 
and was hindered, or, if you will, modified in doing, 
by the interfering volitions of Phidias, of Dante, of 
Shakspeare, the organ whereby man at the moment 
wrought. 

Still more striking is the expression of this fact in 
the proverbs of all nations, which are always the 
literature of Reason, or the statements of an abso- 
lute truth without qualification. Proverbs, like the 
sacred books of each nation, are the sanctuary of the 
Intuitions. That which the droning world, chained 
to appearances, will not allow the realist to say in 
his own words, it will suffer him to say in proverbs 
without contradiction. And this law of laws, which 
the pulpit, the senate and the college deny, is hourly 
preached in all markets and all languages by flights 
of proverbs, whose teaching is as true and as omni- 
present as that of birds and flies. 

All things are double, one against another. — Tit 
for tat ; an eye for an eye ; a tooth for a tooth ; 



i6 COMPENSATION. 

blood for blood ; measure for measure ; love for love. 
— Give, and it shall be given you. — He that watereth 
shall be watered himself. — What will you have? 
quoth God ; pay for it and take it. — Nothing venture, 
nothing have. — Thou shalt be paid exactly for what 
thou hast done, no more, no less. — Who doth not 
work shall not eat. — Harm watch, harm catch. — 
Curses always recoil on the head of him who impre- 
cates them. — If you put a chain around the neck of a 
slave, the other end fastens itself around your own. — 
Bad counsel confounds the adviser. — The devil is an 
ass. 

It is thus written, because it is thus in life. Our 
action is overmastered and characterized above our 
will by the law of nature. We aim at a petty end 
quite aside from the public good, but our act arranges 
itself by irresistible magnetism in a line with the 
poles of the world. 

A man cannot speak but he judges himself. With 
his will or against his will he draws his portrait to 
the eye of his companions by every word. Every 
opinion reacts on him who utters it. It is a thread- 
ball thrown at a mark, but the other eiid remains in 
the thrower's bag. Or, rather, it is a harpoon thrown 
at the whale, unwinding, as it flies, a coil of cord in 
the boat, and, if the harpoon is not good, or not well 
thrown, it will go nigh to cut the steersman in twain 
or to sink the boat. 

You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. 
"No man had ever a point of pride that was not 
injurious to him," said Burke. The exclusive in 
fashionable life does not see that he excludes him- 



COMPENSATION. 17 

self from enjoyment, in the attempt to appropriate it. 
The exclusionist in religion does not see that he 
shuts the door of heaven on himself, in striving ta 
shut out others. Treat men as pawns and nine-pins 
and you shall suffer as well as they. If you leave 
out their heart, you shall lose your own. The senses 
would make things of all persons ; of women, of 
children, of the poor. The vulgar proverb, "I will 
get it from his purse or get it from his skin," is 
sound philosophy. 

All infractions of love and equity in our social 
relations are speedily punished. They are punished 
by Fear. Whilst I stand in simple relations to my 
fellow-man, I have no displeasure in meeting him. 
We meet as water meets water, or as two currents 
of air mix, with perfect diffusion and interpenetration 
of nature. But as soon as there is any departure 
from simplicity and attempt at halfness, or good for 
me that is not good for him, my neighbor feels the 
wrong ; he shrinks from me as far as I have shrunk 
from him; his eyes no longer seek mine; there is war 
between us ; there is hate in him and fear in me. 

All the old abuses in society, the great and univer- 
sal and the petty and particular, all unjust accumula- 
tions of property and power, are avenged in the same 
manner. Fear is an instructor of great sagacity and 
the herald of all revolutions. One thing he always 
teaches, that there is rottenness where he appears. 
He is a carrion crow, and though you see not well 
what he hovers for, there is death somewhere. Our 
property is timid, our laws are timid, our cultivated 
classes are timid. Fear for ages has boded and 



COMPENSATION. 



mowed and gibbered over government and property. 
That obscene bird is not there for nothing. He indi- 
cates great wrongs which must be revised. 

Of the like nature is that expectation of change 
which instantly follows the suspension of our volun- 
tary activity. The terror of cloudless noon, the 
emerald of Polycrates, the awe of prosperity, the 
instinct which leads every generous soul to impose 
on itself tasks of a noble asceticism and vicarious 
virtue, are the tremblings of the balance of justice 
through the heart and mind of man. 

Experienced men of the world know very well that 
it is best to pay scot and lot as they go along, and 
that a man often pays dear for a small frugality. The 
borrower runs in his own debt. Has a man gained 
any thing who has received a hundred favors and 
rendered none? Has he gained by borrowing, 
through indolence or cunning, his neighbor's wares, 
or horses, or money? There arises on the deed the 
instant acknowledgment of benefit on the one part 
and of debt on the other ; that is, of superiority and 
inferiority. The transaction remains in the memory 
of himself and his neighbor; and every new trans- 
action alters according to its nature their relation to 
each other. He may soon come to see that he had 
better have broken his own bones than to have ridden 
in his neighbor's coach, and that "the highest price 
he can pay for a thing is to ask for it." 

A wise man will extend this lesson to all parts of 
life, and know that it is always the part of prudence 
to face every claimant and pay every just demand on 
your time, your talents, or your heart. Always pay; 



COMPENSATION. 19 

for first or last you must pay your entire debt. Per- 
sons and events may stand for a time between you 
and justice, but it is only a postponement. You 
must pay at last your own debt. If you are wise you 
will dread a prosperity which only loads you with 
more. Benefit is the end of nature. But for every 
benefit which you receive, a tax is levied. He is 
great who confers the most benefits. He is base, — 
and that is the one base thing in the universe, — to 
receive favors and render none. In the order of 
nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom 
we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we 
receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed 
for deed, cent for cent, to somebody. Beware of too 
much good staying in your hand. It will fast cor- 
rupt and worm worms. Pay it away quickly in some 
sort. 

Labor is watched over by the same pitiless laws. 
Cheapest, says the prudent, is the dearest labor. 
What we buy in a broom, a mat, a wagon, a knife, 
is some application of good sense to a common want. 
It is best to pay in your land a skilful gardener, or to 
buy good sense applied to gardening; in your sailor, 
good sense applied to navigation ; in the house, good 
sense applied to cooking, sewing, serving; in your 
agent, good sense applied to accounts and affairs. 
So do you multiply your presence, or spread yourself 
throughout your estate. But because of the dual con- 
stitution of things, in labor as in life there can be 
no cheating. The thief steals from himself. The 
swindler swindles himself. For the real price of 
lalDor is knowledge and virtue, whereof wealth and 



20 COMPENSATION. 

credit are signs. These signs, like paper money, 
may be counterfeited or stolen, but that which they 
represent, namely, knowledge and virtue, cannot be 
counterfeited or stolen. These ends of labor cannot 
be answered but by real exertions of the mind, and 
in obedience to pure motives. The cheat, the de- 
faulter, the gambler, cannot extort the benefits, can- 
not extort the knowledge of material and moral na- 
ture which his honest care and pains yield to the 
operative. The law of nature is, Do the thing, and 
you shall have the power; but they who do not the 
thing have not the power. 

Human labor, through all its forms, from tht 
sharpening of a stake to the construction of a city or 
an epic, is one immense illustration of the perfect 
compensation of the universe. Everywhere and al- 
ways this law is sublime. The absolute balance of 
Give and Take, the doctrine that every thing has its 
price, and if that price is not paid, not that thing but 
something else is obtained, and that it is impossible to 
get anything without its price, is not less sublime in 
the columns of a ledger than in the budgets of states, 
in the laws of light and darkness, in all the action 
and reaction of nature. I cannot doubt that the high 
laws which each man sees ever implicated in those 
processes with which he is conversant, the stern 
ethics which sparkle on his chisel-edge, which are 
measured out by his plumb and foot-rule, which 
stand as manifest in the footing of the shop-bill as in 
the history of a state, — do recommend to him his 
trade, and though seldom named, exalt his business 
to his imagination. 



COMPENSATION. 21 

The league between virtue and nature engages all 
things to assume a hostile front to vice. The beau- 
tiful laws and substances of the world persecute and 
whip the traitor. He finds that things are arranged 
for truth and benefit, but there is no den in the wide 
world to hide a rogue. Commit a crime, and the 
earth is made of glass. There is no such thing as 
concealment. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a 
coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in 
the woods the track of every partridge and fox and 
squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken 
word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot 
draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. 
Always some damning circumstance transpires. The 
laws and substances of nature, water, snow, wind, 
gravitation, become penalties to the thief. 

On the other hand the law holds with equal sure- 
ness for all right action. Love, and you shall be 
loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as 
the two sides of an algebraic equation. The good 
man has absolute good, which like fire turns every 
thing to its own nature, so that you cannot do him 
any harm ; but as the royal armies sent against 
Napoleon, when he approached cast down their colors 
and from enemies became friends, so do disasters 
of all kinds, as sickness, offence, poverty, prove 
benefactors. 

Winds blow and waters roll 
Strength to the brave and power and deity. 
Yet in themselves are nothing. 



COMPENSATION. 



The good are befriended even by weakness and 
defect. As no man had ever a point of pride that 
was not injurious to him, so no man had ever a 
defect that was not somewhere made useful to him. 
The stag in the fable admired his horns and blamed 
his feet, brt when the hunter came, his feet saved 
him, and afterwards, caught in the thicket, his horns 
destroyed him. Every man in his lifetime needs to 
thank his faults. As no man thoroughly understands 
a truth until first he has contended against it, so no 
man has a thorough acquaintance with the hindrances 
or talents of men until he has suffered from the one 
and seen the triumph of the other over his own want 
of the same. Has he a defect of temper that unfits 
him to live in society? Thereby he is driven to en- 
tertain himself alone and acquire habits of self-help ; 
and thus, like the wounded oyster, he mends his 
shell with pearl. 

Our strength grows out of our weakness. Not 
until we are pricked and stung and sorely shot at, 
awakens the indignation which arms itself with secret 
forces. A great man is always willing to be little. 
Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes 
to sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, 
he has a chance to learn something; he has been put 
on his wits, on his manhood ; he has gained facts ; 
learns his ignorance ; is cured of the insanity of 
conceit ; has got moderation and real skill. The wise 
man always throws himself on the side of his assail- 
ants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find 
his weak point. The wound cicatrizes and falls oflf 
from him like a dead skin and when they would tri- 



COMPENSATION. 23 

umph, lo ! he has passed on invulnerable. Blame is 
safer than praise. I hate to be defended in a news- 
paper. As long as all that is said is said against me, 
I feel a certain assurance of success. But as soon as 
honied words of praise are spoken for me I feel as 
one that lies unprotected before his enemies. In gen- 
eral, every evil to which we do not succumb is a 
benefactor. As the Sandwich Inlander believes that 
the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes 
into himself, so we gain the strength of the tempta- 
tion we resist. 

The same guards which protect us from disaster, 
defect and enmity, defend us, if we will, from self- 
ishness and fraud. Bolts and bars are not the best 
of our institutions, nor is shrewdness in trade a mark 
of wisdom. Men suffer all their life long under the 
foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But 
it is as impossible for a man to be cheated by any 
one but himself, as for a thing to be and not to be 
at the same time. There is a third silent party to all 
our bargains. The nature and soul of things takes 
on itself the guaranty of the fulfilment of every con- 
tract, so that honest service cannot come to loss. 
If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the 
more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be 
repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the 
better for you ; for compound interest on compound 
interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer. 

The history of persecution is a history of endeavors 
to cheat nature, to make water run up hill, to twist 
a rope of sand. It makes no difference whether the 
actors be many or one, a tyrant or a mob. A mob 



24 COMPENSATION, 

is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving them- 
selves of reason and traversing its work. The mob 
is man voluntarily descending to the nature of the 
beast. Its fit hour of activity is night. Its actions 
are insane, '.ike its whole constitution. It persecutes 
a principle; it would whip a right; it would tar and 
feather justice, by inflicting fire and outrage upon 
the houses and persons of those who have these. 
It resembles the prank of boys, who run with fire- 
engines to put out the ruddy aurora streaming to the 
stars. The inviolate spirit turns their spite against 
the wrongdoers. The martyr cannot be dishonored. 
Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame ; every prison 
a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house 
enlightens the world ; every suppressed or expunged 
word reverberates through the earth from side to 
side. The minds of men are at last aroused ; reason 
looks out and justifies her own and malice finds all 
her work in vain. It is the whipper who is whipped 
and the tyrant who is undone. 

Thus do all things preach the indifferency of cir- 
cumstances. The man is all. Every thing has two 
sides, a good and an evil. Every advantage has its 
tax. I learn to be content. But the doctrine of 
compensation is not the doctrine of indifferency. 
The thoughtless say, on hearing these representa- 
tions, — What boots it to do well? there is one event 
to good and evil ; if I gain any a;ood I must pay tor 
it; if I lose any good I gam some other; all actions 
are indifferent. 

There is a deeper fact in the soul than compensa- 



COMPENSATION. 25 

tion, to wit, its own nature. The soul is not a com- 
pensation, but a life. The soul is. Under all this 
running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and 
flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss 
of real Being. Existence, or God, is not a relation 
or a part, but the whole. Being is the vast affirma- 
tive, excluding negation, self-balanced, and swallow- 
ing up all relations, parts and times within itself. 
Nature, truth, virtue, are the influx from thence. 
Vice is the absence or departure of the same. Noth- 
-ng, Falsehood, may indeed stand as the great Night 
or shade on which as a background the living uni- 
verse paints itself forth; but no fact is begotten by 
it ; it cannot work, for it is not. It cannot work any 
good ; it cannot work any harm. It is harm inas- 
much as it is worse not to be than to be. 

We feel defrauded of the retribution due to evil 
acts, because the criminal adheres to his vice and 
contumacy and does not come to a crisis or judgment 
anywhere in visible nature. There is no stunning 
confutation of his nonsense before men and angels. 
Has he therefore outwitted the law? Inasmuch as 
he carries the malignity and the lie with him he so 
far decreases from nature. In some manner there 
will be a demonstration of the wrong to the under- 
standing also ; but, should we not see it, this deadly 
deduction makes square the eternal account. 

Neither can it be said, on the other hand, that the 
gain of rectitude must be bought by any loss. There 
is no penalty to virtue ; no penalty to wisdom ; they 
are proper additions of being. In a virtuous action 
I properly am; in a virtuous act I add to the world; 



26 COM PENS A TI ON. 

I plant into deserts conquered from Chaos and Noth- 
ing and see the darkness receding on the hmits of 
the horizon. There can be no excess to love, none 
to knowledge, none to beauty, when these attributes 
are considered in the purest sense. The soul refuses 
all limits. It affirms in man always an Optimism, 
never a Pessimism. 

His life is a progress, and not a station. His in- 
stinct is trust. Our instinct uses "more" and "less" 
in application to man, always of the presence of the 
soul, and not of its absence ; the brave man is greater 
than the coward ; the true, the benevolent, the wise, is 
more a man and not less, than the fool and knave. 
There is therefore no tax on the good of virtue, for 
that is the incoming of God himself, or absolute ex- 
istence, without any comparative. All external good 
has its tax, and if it came without desert or sweat, 
has no root in me, and the next wind will blow it 
away. But all the good of nature is the soul's, and 
may be had if paid for in nature's lawful coin, that 
is, by labor which the heart and the head allow. I 
no longer wish to meet a good I do not earn, for 
example to find a pot of buried gold, knowing that it 
brings with it new responsibility. I do not wish more 
external goods, — neither possessions, nor honors, nor 
powers, nor persons. The gain is apparent ; the tax 
is certain. But there is no tax on the knowledge that 
the compensation exists and that it is not desirable 
to dig up treasure. Herein I rejoice with a serene 
eternal peace. I contract the boundaries of possible 
mischief. I learn the wisdom of St. Bernard, "Noth- 
ing can work me damage except myself; the harm 



COMPIINSATION. 27 

that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a 
real sufferer but by my own fault." 

In the nature of the soul is the compensation for 
the inequalities of condition. The radical tragedy of 
nature seems to be the distinction of More and Less. 
How can Less not feel the pain ; how not feel in- 
dignation or malevolence towards More? Look at 
those who have less faculty, and one feels sad and 
knows not well what to make of it. Almost he shuns 
their eye ; he fears they will upbraid God. What 
should they do? It seems a great injustice. But 
see the facts nearly and these mountainous inequali- 
ties vanish. Love reduces them as the sun melts the 
iceberg in the sea. The heart and soul of all men 
being one, this bitterness of His and Mine ceases. 
His is mine. I am my brother and my brother is me. 
If I feel overshadowed and outdone by great neigh- 
bors, I can get love ; I can still receive ; and he that 
loveth maketh his own the grandeur he loves. 
Thereby I make the discovery that my brother is my 
guardian, acting for me with the friendliest designs, 
and the estate I so admired and envied is my own. 
It is the eternal nature of the soul to appropriate and 
make all things its own. Jesus and Shakspeare are 
fragments of the soul, and by love I conquer and 
incorporate them in my own conscious domain. His 
virtue, — is not that mine? His wit, — if it cannot be 
made mine, it is not wit. 

Such also is the natural history of calamity. The 
changes which break up at short intervals the pros- 
perity of men are advertisements of a nature whose 
law is growth. Evermore it is the order of nature to 



28 COMPENSATION. 

grow, and every soul is by this intrinsic necessity 
quitting its whole system of things, its friends and 
home and laws and faith, as the shellfish crawls out 
of its beautiful but stony case, because it no longer 
admits of its growth, and slowly forms a new house. 
In proportion to the vigor of the individual these 
revolutions are frequent, until in some happier mind 
they are incessant and all worldly relations hang very 
loosely about him, becoming as it were a transparent 
fluid membrane through which the living form is 
always seen, and not, as in most men, an indurated 
heterogeneous fabric of many dates and of no settled 
character, in which the man is imprisoned. Then 
there can be enlargement, and the man of to-day 
scarcely recognizes the man of yesterday. And such 
should be the outward biography of man in time, a 
putting off of dead circumstances day by day, as he 
renews his raiment day by day. But to us, in our 
lapsed estate, resting, not advancing, resisting, not 
cooperating with the divine expansion, this growth 
comes by shocks. 

We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let 
our angels go. We do not see that they only go out 
that archangels may come in. We are idolaters of 
the old. We do not believe in the riches of the 
soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We 
do not believe there is any force in to-day to rival or 
re-create that beautiful yesterday. We linger in the 
ruins of the old tent where once we had bread and 
shelter and organs, nor believe that the spirit can 
feed, cover, and nerve us again. We cannot again 
find aught so dear, so sweet, so graceful. But we 



COMPENSATION. 29 

sit and weep in vain. The voice of the Almighty 
saith, 'Up and onward forevermore !' We cannot 
stay amid the ruins. Neither will we rely on the 
New ; and so we walk ever with reverted eyes, like 
those monsters who look backwards. 

And yet the compensations of calamity are made 
apparent to the understanding also, after long inter- 
vals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disap- 
pointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems 
at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the 
sure years reveal the deep remedial force that under- 
lies all facts. The death of a dear friend, wife, 
brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, 
somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or 
genius ; for it commonly operates revolutions in our 
way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of 
youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a 
wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, 
and allows the formation of new ones more friendly 
to the growth of character. It permits or constrains 
the formation of new acquaintances and the recep- 
tion of new influences that prove of the first impor- 
tance to the next years ; and the man or woman who 
would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no 
room for its roots and too much sunshine for its 
head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect of 
the gardener is made the banian of the forest, yield- 
ing shade and fruit to wide neighborhoods of men. 



PS Emerson, Ralph Waldo 

1615 Compensation 

C6 
1910 



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